There are several types of Bug-out-Bags (BOBs) that are regularly discussed among the preparation crowd. Although folks like to break down BOBs into numerous categories, I tend to think that two types are enough to fill most needs, and the larger of the two bags tends to be more like full on moving than just bugging out. I've noticed that people like to add their everyday carry bags to the list of BOBs, something that I find pointless because going about one’s daily business is hardly an example of bugging out. I should also note that I separate BOBs from what are often referred to battle bags, or bags that are intended to carry arms and armament. I consider those types of preparations to be a little too far removed from reality and generally irrelevant.
As far as I'm concerned, Bug-out-Bags generally come in two sizes – medium and large. The medium size will be the subject of the rest of this article (a later article will follow detailing larger and personal bags).
A medium Bug-out-Bag is what I consider to be a three day bag, for those occasions when you will be away from home for a limited amount of time. They are also the same bags that would be put to good use as emergency bags in the trunk of a car. That means that these bags need to be fairly mobile, lightweight, and preferably waterproof. Like all equipment that is to be used in emergencies, the bag itself should be properly tested before assuming that it is capable of fulfilling its’ intended purpose. Having spent a number of years working outdoors on a game preserve, I'm a big fan of serious waterproof backpacks for this role, and when I say waterproof, I mean bags that were specifically made to be waterproof and not just water-resistant.
Not only do waterproof bags keep your items dry when you’re on the go, they also keep your equipment dry when it is not being used, which, for a bug-out-bag, is going to be 99% of the time. Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of companies that produce high quality waterproof bags. I have, however, owned several bags manufactured by Pacific Outdoor and they’ve held up very well through the years.
Backpacks as Bug-out-Bags
I only use backpacks as Bug-out-Bags because bugging out means that you need to be mobile on foot and no other bag design allows you to be mobile like a good backpack does. Of course, I can’t really recommend a specific backpack to anyone because people come in all shapes and sizes with varying needs. There is simply no such thing as a one size fits all backpack. That being said, anyone preparing for an emergency should anticipate that they may have to walk a considerable distance and possibly over a period of several days. That means purchasing and testing a good backpack under similar conditions in order to break it in and make sure that it is a good fit is a priority. A poor fitting backpack is as bad, or even worse, than a poor fitting pair of shows.
Contents of Bug-out-Bags
The contents of Bug-out-Bags will also vary depending on expected environmental conditions. A person living in the desert has different needs than a person living in northern Canada, and a person living in the city has different needs than one living in the forest. I should note at this point that when it comes to Bug-out-Bags, many people are much too enamored with the idea of being forced into the wilderness. While this possibility may be relevant for a few people, it will not be the case for the vast majority of us. That being said, many of the same items that work well in wilderness environments can also be put to good use elsewhere.
List of the Contents
Here’s a brief list of the contents that can be found in a good Bug-out-Bag for a single person. The entire setup should generally not weigh more than 35% of the carriers’ body weight and most items should be stored in waterproof bags (remember, try bugging out and living off of the contents of your bag - this can be a real eye opening experience):
- Money (as much as you can afford)
- Any personal / insurance documents deemed relevant. I carry hard copies and have copies on a flash drive
- Flashlight with multiple settings – with extra set of batteries
- First aid kit
- Emergency candle
- A tiny radio (using the same batteries as flashlight)
- Small hatchet
- Multi-tool with substantial cutting blade
- Small sharpening stone
- Map of surrounding area (if possible)
- Lighter / matches / fire starter
- Hand sanitizer
- Toilet tissue
- Pen and paper – paper can double as kindling
- Para cord / duct tape / nails
- Small pack towel
- Gas mask – more important than most people think, especially in the city
- Pocket hand warmers
- Garbage bag
- Complete change of under clothing – the expectation is that you will be wearing relevant clothing
- Wool hat – regardless of climate
- High quality sleeping bag with bivvy sack
- Food – minimum of three days worth of MRE type food (avoid most dehydrated food - it needs water and is often filled with salt)
- Water – minimum of three days worth (this greatly depends on your size and activity level)
- Water filter / iodine tablets
- Practical firearm
Obviously the items mentioned above are subject to debate. For instance, few people really think that a gas mask is a necessary. But, as someone who was in NYC right after 9/11 with the dust still hanging low in the air, I tend to think otherwise. I’m also keenly aware of the possible other calamities that can befall us, including fires, pollutants, industrial accidents, and chemical spills. For me, the gas mask stays, simply because I’m in an area that has seen all of the above in recent memory.
My gas mask is my single nod to extravagance. . The items I’ve listed are for a static BOB, the contents of which cannot be manipulated before moving on. If I had time to think about my needs during a particular even the contents of said bag would undoubtedly change, and in all likelihood more items would be removed than added.
That being said, other people never cease to amaze me by the junk that they put into Bug-out-Bags. Everyone seems to forget that a) you can’t prepare for everything b) a Bug-out-Bag must be easily transportable c) you’re not fighting a war. If you can’t carry it for more than a few feet then it isn’t very valuable. Nor do you want to run around looking like Rambo or some wannabe military type. Jungle camouflage isn’t going to help you hide in populated areas and it certainly isn’t going to help you be rescued if you’re lost in the woods. Drop the camouflage, black bags, big knives, and all the other flashy stuff in the trash.
In my experience Bug-out-Bags reflect the experiences of their owners. The more experienced the packer the less they are inclined to bring with them. The same can be said for campers and hunters. At this point in my life I’ve spent so much time outdoors that I’m comfortable with little more than a sleeping bag, tarp, a few matches, and a bit of food during a brief jaunt through the wilderness. Everything else gets heavy really quick. I know several long time professional hunting guides in Alaska who are content to take hardly anything into the woods with the exception of the bare necessities. One of them, even though he brings clients on his outings, doesn’t even bring a medical kit, just an extra shirt and a roll of duct tape.
While I don’t recommend going to those extremes, I do suggest taking your Bug-out-Bag into an area where you can effectively utilize its contents and see if you can get by for the maximum time that you project to be on your own. If you do this a few times and slowly adjust what you bring with you, not only will you have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t, you will also have the confidence in your equipment that is vital to surviving unfortunate circumstances.